Jews Just One Piece of Obama Puzzle

President Battles To Hold Together Electoral Coalition

By Anna Greenberg and Amy Cohen

Published November 14, 2011, issue of November 18, 2011.
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American Jews have historically been a critical base for the Democratic Party. This has not changed. Jewish voters’ affinity for the Democratic Party is deeply rooted in both the faith’s core tenets, such as tzedakah and tikkun olam,, and in the particular evolution of a post-New Deal Democratic Party championing civil rights and liberties, separation of church and state, and caring for society’s most vulnerable citizens.

SEE THE FORWARD’S ENTIRE PACKAGE ABOUT OBAMA’S POLL NUMBERS.

Michael Bloomfield and Mark Mellman say predicting the Jewish vote is getting more complicated. Jim Gerstein writes that Obama’s only real problem with Jewish voters is that there aren’t more of them.

Concretely, this has meant strong support for Democratic candidates at every level of government. Since 1992, Democratic candidates have earned more than 75% of the Jewish vote in every presidential election. Even when, in 2008, when there was an active debate about whether or not Jewish voters would support Barack Obama, ultimately he received 78% of the Jewish vote.

Recent controversies over Obama’s approach to the Middle East conflict, as well as ongoing skepticism from some quarters about his commitment to Israel, have led to suggestions that he is losing support among Jewish voters. This claim assumes, of course, both that a large number of Jewish voters do believe that Obama is not sufficiently supportive of Israel and that Jewish voters have a unified position on Israel. In reality, there is very little evidence supporting either of these two assumptions.

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The assumption that Israel trumps other major political and economic issues is disproved by observing that Jewish voters’ support for Obama has moved up and down with other major voting blocs, including among other groups who favor him, such as African Americans and liberal Democrats. Among Jews, polling data from Gallup’s daily tracking in August and September show that Jewish support is not down disproportionately when compared with overall support for Obama among all Americans. Further, Jewish support for Obama is 13 points higher than his overall support in the same period.

The 2011 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, which was also conducted this September, shows Obama [leading all the top Republican contenders by wide margins. Among Jewish Americans, he leads Mitt Romney by 18 points, Rick Perry by 30 points and Michele Bachmann by 40 points.

Those who argue that a major rift is opening between the Jewish electorate and the president also forget that politics is a matter of choice and of contrast, not simply of affirmation. Jewish voters who may be unsettled by Obama’s Middle East policy (though this is debatable) will face the need to find an alternative. The Republican candidates for president generally profess a more “hard-line” position on Israel, but outside of this issue, all the Republican candidates promote values antithetical to mainstream Jewish political thinking. All are anti-choice in one way or another; all vocally oppose same-sex marriage; all profess a laissez-faire, supply-side economic policy in the face of real suffering in this country, and all would blur the distinction between church and state. These values will be professed ever more visibly and loudly as the Republican primary matures.

Incumbent presidents in times of high unemployment always struggle. We probably will not see the same level of Jewish support for Obama as we saw in 2008. Then again, his support will likely come in lower among younger voters, independents and other groups, as well.

Anna Greenberg is senior vice president and Amy Cohen is an analyst at the polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.


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